While walking this afternoon to my book publishing company’s satellite office (okay, Bread & Butter Bakery, if you must know), here is what I saw: a young interracial couple holding hands while window shopping, presumably unaware that just two generations ago, KKK rallies were held just yards away.
Inside the bakery, an African American woman huddled over her laptop at the big stainless-steel community table, sipping coffee from a Peanuts coffee mug, and in the corner, a young couple with pierced eye lids and lips held hands and bowed their heads in prayer before indulging in their wraps and cream soda. As I write this, one of the county’s arts leaders came in and informed me that every year, she and her husband add to their Christmas tree an ornament from a different religion. The city manager of Porterdale strolled in and had his wife vouch for him that, in fact, he had read all 3,200 pages of Marcel Proust’s tome, “In Search of Lost Time.” Whatever.
All in all, it was a fairly eclectic scene for a small Southern town. It takes all kinds and we, as a society, will get nowhere fast by being exclusionary. There is enough hate and divisiveness elsewhere in the country, no matter how you define it or frame it. There is a real estate agency in suburban Dallas that caters to only white Republicans and an online chat room for liberals with the warning: Right wingers should not enter.
Yes, I know. No one is looking for a lecture, no matter which side of the social and political spectrum fence you sit on, not this time of the year or anytime. And believe me, I’m hardly a bastion of tolerance. I can harbor my own dark suspicions about all manner of people and yell at the television with each new outrage that greets my day. But we can all begin somewhere and recognize that just because someone doesn’t look like you, doesn’t think like you do, or doesn’t have the same value system as you, does not mean you have to fight them at every turn, or try to legislate them right out of existence.
My former dental hygienist just walked in and sat my table. Wise beyond her years, she picked at her salad and said, “You don’t have to love everybody. You just need to show some respect.”
It brings to mind Scout, the daughter from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” whose earnestness seems to bring her nothing but grief in the tortured society of Maycomb, Alabama. But when she mocks her friend Walter, whose family is destitute, for dumping molasses on his meat, the maid Calpurnia immediately calls Scout into kitchen and hisses, in essence, “He’s a guest in this house. You show some respect.”
This week my wife and I are going to a holiday party and I know from previous parties at this house that while the host and hostess lean heavily in one direction, the guest list will cover the entire spectrum of political and social discourse. It’s a chance for everyone to get a sugar high around the dessert table and drop their guard and just be friends.
No, I don’t think we’re all going to sit around the campfire one day, sing “Kumbaya,” and then stand for a group hug. But we can recognize that we all inhabit the same space and despite our differences, we can show a little mutual respect. As a former politician once said, we are not the red states of America or the blue states of America. We are the United States of America.
These are trying times we are living in. People smarter than I—which, granted, is setting a very low bar—have pointed this out many times and far more eloquently. I just know what I see when I come out of my bubble.
My faith doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but everybody can celebrate the underlying spirit of the season (and, no, that doesn’t mean more presents). Indeed, you can respect your fellow man, woman or transgender neighbor anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. It just takes a little graciousness. When Ronald Reagan was shot, the surgeon had him on the table and was getting ready to operate. Just before being put under, Reagan looked up at the medical team surrounding him. “Please tell me you’re all Republicans.” Joseph Giordano, the surgeon and a lifelong Democrat, didn’t miss a beat. “We’re all Republicans today.”
Rob Levin is president and editor of a book publishing company in Covington and is a former national feature writer for the Atlanta Constitution.